Saturday, December 23, 2006

Life's Too Short to Play Twilight Imperium 3 (again)

Goodness me. The afternoon, evening and night has been occupied by a game of Twilight Imperium 3, the imperial flagship of the Ameritrash Empire. CyberKev and I are on a campaign to have played more of the games in the top 50, and as the Evil Count von Walduck has a copy of TI3 and we're on holidays, today was a good time to play it. I carefully organised for the kid to be with his mum because I knew this would take a long time and the kid wouldn't be able to deal with it.

So, the players. I was yellow and had the Hacan - lion people who are traders. Bertie Beetle was red and had the hot chick thieves (Mentak?). Badhoe was green with the Gollums (Yssaril), and CyberKev was a nice shade of lavender with the undead dudes. I've got no idea what they were called. I was pleased to have the Hacan because about the only sci-fi books I've really liked were Dune and Pride of Chanur, and I was proud to play the Chanur. Also, they were an innately non-aggressive race.

We started the rules explanation at about 1:15pm, and started the game at about 3:15pm. Yes, it really did take that long. None of us had played before and the evil count kindly popped in to tell us what was what even though he wasn't able to stay to play. Then the first turn took us an hour and a half. Kevin and I had calculated that with the Imperial power, the game would last at most 17 turns, but taking an hour and a half for the first turn didn't encourage us at all. My significant achievement for the first turn was controlling the trade agreements. I can now reveal my evil plan in all of its glory, so I will. Badhoe had a trade contract worth 2, I had two trade contracts worth 3, and everyone else had trade contracts worth 1. That means that everyone wanted to trade with me, even me. I didn't want to trade with those underfinanced scum! But I had to. So I chose Badhoe's better contract, and CyberKev. I knew that CyberKev was the sort of player who would not start a war when it would cost him a lucrative trade contract, so by trading with him I was protecting my right flank. However that left my left flank open to Bertie, so I approved a trade contract between Badhoe and CyberKev, leaving Bertie underfinanced. I hoped.

However over the next two turns it became clear that Bertie was a homicidal kleptomaniac who expanded rapidly and soon infringed upon territory that belonged to the Hacan by divine right. Badhoe also revealed himself as a dangerous lunatic who was building up forces along his border with CyberKev. Bertie's large fleet occupied a central hex which I considered to be in my territory and was between CyberKev and I. We were definitely intimidated by this large force, and I considered Bertie to be my only threat barring masterful backstabs by the other two.

Now as the Hacan I had good income and a good home system, so I set about building planetary defences. I eventually got deep space cannons to I was able to use my planetary defence systems to threaten the system Bertie had occupied. All I needed for him was to step my way and I could blow him to smithereens.

Then occurred a somewhat dull part of the game. We all knew that in Ameritrash economic games, attacking is a stupid move economically. The cost of the invasion just can't be recovered before the game ends, even for a small invasion. You need a really stupid opponent to be able to make an invasion a financial success. The game moved into the doldrums, with Badhoe building up attack forces, CyberKev
building defences, Bertie building war suns, and me building anything I could while I waited for the fighting to start. Bertie announced he wasn't going home until he'd used his war sun, so I figured I could wait for my opportunity.

After a few more hours, with Badhoe's planetary defences on Bertie's side looking formidable, and CyberKev's use of diplomacy preventing Bertie from attacking him, it began to look like Bertie would be staying all night. I cracked. I decided I didn't care who won, the game had to be spiced up, and furthermore something had to happen or I would be there all night. I attacked one of Bertie's undefended backwater systems. I knew this was a bad move. Bertie's war suns were itching for a fight and I'd presented myself as a target for revenge. But bugger it, something had to happen to make the game exciting. It was interesting, yes, but not exciting. My frustration resulting in my making a game-losing move cost the game maybe two points in my rating - turtling is a serious flaw in the game. When I decide I don't care about winning there's something wrong.

So I attacked Bertie and occupied his system, immediately attracting the attention of the fleet of 2 war suns, 4 cruisers and a destroyer. They steamed over straight away and I was crushed, but Bertie had no invasion forces and I maintained control of the planets.

In the next round Bertie's battalion of enforcers came to attack me again. This time he entered the range of my planetary defences and before the fleet even attacked he'd taken two hits from the cannons. Those hits were on the war suns so his forces weren't depleted at all. The law prohibiting bombardment of factories was in force, so he wasn't allowed to attack one of my planets. The other was bombed back to the 21st century. I then sent in a force of three cruisers to attack his war suns, activating the planetary defences again. All three hit, as did two of the cruisers, and Bertie the last of his cruisers and one of the war suns. Woohoo! Noble sacrifice! As a parting shot, my factory on the planet built a war sun itself, leaving the system occupied by Bertie's damaged war sun and my healthy one. We thought there might have been a rule preventing that occurrence but we couldn't figure out what it was.

Meanwhile, over on MegaCool One, the centre of the universe, CyberKev did some stuff. Badhoe built up his forces even more. The real action was happening over in my system. At the first opportunity, Bertie invaded again. Again my planetary defences mowed him down, leaving only the two war suns to fight. We scored one hit each, destroying his war sun and injuring mine. But his hit was a critical hit, and my war sun exploded as well. Kaboom!

And then CyberKev won. His secret objective was to do wheelies on MegaCool One while having some technology stuff, and he satsified that for 2 VPs we didn't expect. So he won. And that was that. Well played CyberKev.

So what did I think of the game? Well I think the redesign of it is very good. Trevor was telling us how it differed from the old version, and the strategic phase is very nicely done. All of the strategy cards are handy and about equally powered. The political cards were very interesting, and the tactics cards were mostly useful. The fleet supply and command tokens work very nicely to constrain the number of things you can do. Christian Petersen has done some good work there.

Having said that though, this is really not my sort of game. Like Wizard Kings and Age of Mythology there is no financially sensible reason to attack. Nexus Ops and Antike do a much better job in that regard. Also, the game lasted 10 hours, and that was with a surprise win by CyberKev. That's way too long for me. I rated the game a 4 although it's very unlikely I'll ever play it again. In 10 hours I can get a whole lot of other things done. Without the turtling problem it might make a 6, but really, life's too short.


Iain Cheyne said...

Most entertaining session report I've read in a while. Thanks.

Ken Lee said...

I've experienced the same thing with this game.

I guess the game could be really engaging if you played with a whole bunch of like-minded people. Meaning every player is vicious and out for blood. Because otherwise, tt just doesn't pay to attack another player. And the game can get tedious and boring if you didn't.

If you liked Antike, I think you'll like Imperial very much.